Las Vegas Sun

August 3, 2015

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ANALYSIS:

Governor’s race tightens as budget debate avoided

Reid creeping up in polls on Sandoval, whose plan is unknown

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Sun Coverage

Less than two weeks before early voting begins the candidates for governor are paying scant attention to the state’s budget deficit — the issue that will monopolize the first months in office for the state’s CEO.

Rory Reid, the Democrat, has released a budget plan that balances spending with vague assertions about cutting waste and finding efficiencies, combined with a rosy economic forecast.

Brian Sandoval, the Republican, has offered nothing but a promise that at some point between now and Nov. 2 — he won’t say when, exactly — he will unveil a plan.

As the candidates prepare for their second debate, Thursday in Las Vegas, they have yet to engage in a robust deliberation of the state’s future or detailed examination of how they would bridge the state’s projected $3 billion deficit.

Reid is spending his campaign money accusing Sandoval of being too close to special interests.

Sandoval, for the first time, has responded to a Reid attack by calling his opponent a hypocrite for leveling that accusation. Reid was formally a lobbyist and works for a law firm with a long list of powerful clients, Sandoval has noted.

This direct response to Reid and some recent polls signal the race, which at one point had Sandoval up by more than 20 points, has tightened.

One poll last month, by respected Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, had Reid within 6 points of Sandoval. Another survey, by Rasmussen, last week had Reid trailing Sandoval by 13 points.

Those numbers have some observers thinking that Sandoval’s approach — nursing his double-digit lead by avoiding mistakes rather than discussing policy — is wearing thin.

“There’s a perception problem. People are beginning to think there’s an unwillingness (from Sandoval) to debate the issues,” said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College. “There seems to be a desire to coast to victory in November. I suspect a growing number of voters in Nevada feel like they’re being taken for granted.”

Sandoval said that perception is untrue. He has a robust, if not exactly public, schedule touring businesses and schools and meeting with groups.

Reid attempted to pressure Sandoval to release a budget plan late last week through a news release and an ad on the Web calling for the Republican to debate the budget.

Sandoval appears content to wait, saying only that he won’t raise taxes and might raise money by selling state buildings and leasing them back from private buyers.

In an interview, Sandoval called Reid’s budget plan “worse than nothing. It’s not realistic. If a governor presented that budget to the Legislature, he’d be laughed out of the building.”

Reid shot back: “We’ve at least had the courage to say something.”

Sandoval has a history of taking his time before taking action. When he was attorney general, the capital media referred to him as “snail-paced Sandoval” for his deliberative process before making a decision.

“I know it sounds trite, but I’m still working on it,” Sandoval said. “I’m not going to put out something that is unrealistic, like the Reid campaign did.”

Reid said Sandoval is running “the most empty campaign in the history of Nevada politics. He’s unwilling to have a substantive debate. I think he thinks that Nevadans don’t deserve to know what he will do.”

But Reid is, so far, unwilling to get into the details of his plan.

Parts of Reid’s budget plan seem unrealistic, such as his promise to cut administrative costs by half and his proposal to transfer $100 million from transportation to the general fund, which would violate the state constitution.

Reid has promised not to cut K-12 or higher education beyond extending the existing furloughs and not to raise taxes. Sandoval pointed out that 55 percent of the state’s budget is K-12 and higher education. He said there needs to be “shared sacrifice.”

Reid’s retort: “I’m not going to debate with myself. Brian needs to come forward. His refusal to do that is the reason his campaign fails.”

Some political observers, though, say voters waiting for that substantive budget debate will likely have to continue waiting. Such back and forth is an inside game, one the general voting public doesn’t care much about right now.

“The voters this year are not focused on substantive policy differences,” said Billy Vassiliadis, a Democratic political consultant who sometimes advises Reid. “Voters are angry. They want to send a message. I think voters will pick who they trust more, or at least who they mistrust least.”

Republican consultant Robert Uithoven agreed.

“I just don’t think people are going to be demonstrating outside his campaign for a budget plan,” he said. “I don’t think the public is going to the polls and voting on a budget plan. They’re going to the polls voting for a candidate they want to see be governor.”

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